July 2018
Howle's Hints

From Blues to Barbecues

“They put me on television. And the whole thing broke loose.
It was wild, I tell ya for sure.” ~ Elvis Presley

 

 

A large photo hangs inside the recording studio of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley at the piano.

When I was a teenager, I quite often spent the night with my grandparents. On one particular night, my grandfather and I were watching a documentary on the life of Elvis Presley from his birth, in 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, to his death, in 1977 at Graceland in Memphis. The documentary covered Presley’s humble beginnings, his skyrocketing fame and his untimely death at the age of 42.

During the last part of the documentary, it was obvious Presley was overwhelmed with his life of fame and completely worn-out. As he was quoted, "There are too many people who depend on me. I’m too obligated. I’m in too far to get out."

After the documentary, my grandfather said, "That ole boy would have been better off if he hadn’t left that farm in Mississippi."

He then got up and went to bed.

When he was younger, Presley said, "Whatever I will become will be what God has chosen for me."

It was evident God had provided Presley with a huge opportunity, but it came at a cost.

My family and I recently visited Memphis. If you like Elvis Presley, barbecue and blues, Memphis is definitely the place to visit. Three must-see spots are Sun Studios, Graceland and Beale Street.

 

Sun Studios

In 1950, Sam Phillips, a DJ from Florence, opened the Memphis Recording Service, later the Sun Records label. The top musicians who got their start there were names such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, and blues legends such as Ike Turner and B.B. King.

When the 1951 hit "Rocket 88" was performed by Turner’s band, another first took place. Turner’s guitar amplifier got knocked over during the ride to Memphis and the speaker cone broke; they couldn’t afford to buy a new amplifier. Phillips asked them to record with the broken speaker that Turner had packed newspaper around that gave the guitar a scratchy-growling sound. On that day, the sound of guitar distortion was born.

Sun Studios is located on Union Avenue and is open for touring seven days a week, 10 a.m.-6:15 p.m. Adult tickets are $14 and children 5-11 can visit for free. For more information, visit www.sunstudio.com.

 

Left to right, Sun Studios is a complete museum of early rock, blues and country.The self-guided tour of Graceland gives a glimpse into the private life of Elvis, from his pool room to the Jungle Room.

 

Graceland

In the auto museum, you can find many of the vehicles driven by Elvis on and off the big screen, including his iconic pink Cadillac.

 

A tour of Graceland covers a look at Presley’s mansion as well as the cars he drove and the costumes he wore onstage. In 1957 at age 22, he bought the house and a little over 13 acres for just over $100,000. Needless to say, it’s worth quite a bit more today.

Presley moved his parents, Vernon and Gladys, into Graceland with him. His dad had his own office in the back where he handled business, bookkeeping and answered fan mail.

Growing up extremely poor, Vernon worked those early years with his brother farming, raising cotton, corn and a few hogs. When he moved into Graceland, he turned one of the brick outbuildings into a smokehouse. The hooks for hanging meat are still in the ceiling.

For more information about booking a trip to Graceland, visit www.graceland.com.

 

Beale Street and the Blues

Beale Street began roaring in the 1920s with nightclubs, jazz and blues, and people in suits mingling with those wearing overalls. Bordered by the Mississippi River, the areas in and around Beale Street are lined with neon lights advertising jazz and blues singers and signs boasting the best barbecue in the South.

During the Jazz Age, musicians such as B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Memphis Minnie and Muddy Waters helped create the style referred to as the "Memphis Blues." Even Presley, the white boy from Mississippi, credited the influence of this early blues music on his musical style.

There are plenty of places on Beale Street to enjoy music inside the clubs, on the streets or in the open alleys. Some of the club names reflect the musical influence such as The Tin Roof, Jerry Lee Lewis’ Honky Tonk Café and B.B. King’s Blues Club. For more information about Beale Street and the blues, visit www.bealestreet.com.

While you are near Beale Street, check out the National Civil Rights Museum and visit the Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. This is a moving experience because even the coffee cups and cigarettes are left where they were at the time of the shooting April 4, 1968. The original style of the motel is also as it was that day.

 

Barbecue

Finally, some of the best barbecue can be had at Central Barbeque. Plenty of slow-smoked pork with slaw on top in a thick sandwich with home fries is a great way to end a long day of Memphis Music. Central Barbeque has been ranked the No. 1 barbecue in Memphis since 2005. They have been on shows such as "Pitmasters" and in publications such as USA Today and Southern Living.

 

John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.